China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 22, 2016
Executive Summary: Since the election, the ruling DPP has been taking one step at a time. But it is now the ruling party. It must answer to the people of Taiwan. It must offer them a clear direction. As Tsai Ing-wen herself conceded during the DPP's recent Party Congress, if ruling party change fails to solve problems, if it fails to effect structural change, the people will be disappointed not only in the DPP, but in democracy itself. Tsai Ing-wen can no longer afford to remain silent.
Taiwan is currently beleaguered by a host of problems. Yet President Tsai Ing-wen has evaded responsibility for every one of them, by wishing them out of existence.
When the “ruling” on the South China Sea was announced, It miraculously demoted Taiping Island to the status of a "reef". The Tsai government publicly declared that it "would never accept it". But it refused to reaffirm the U-shaped line in the South China Sea and Taiwan's historic rights to the territory within. Tsai was determined to distance Taiwan from the Mainland's “joint defense of China's heritage, and resolute rejection of arbitration". As Tsai saw it, this would enable her to avoid association with the Mainland, help her avoid being denounced for selling out Taiwan, and enable the United States and Japan save face.
The DPP recently convened its 17th Party Congress, the first such gathering since its return to power. Delegates proposed two mutually contradictory amendments to the DPP party platform. One did away with the Taiwan independence party platform. The other did away with further reference to the Republic of China. The former put an end to Taiwan independence. The latter de-Sinicized Taiwan and stepped up moves toward Taiwan independence. Party Chairman Tsai Ing-wen remained tight-lipped and suppressed both amendments. During deliberations, she declared that she was “maintaining the status quo”. She resorted to the same ploy used to such effect during the general election.
Equivocation, flexibility, and silence on critical issues. This are President Tsai's means for coping with cross-Strait and international problems. How will the new regime deal with the South China Sea issue? It will refuse to echo the Mainland's "joint defense of China's heritage”. It will refuse to mention Ma Ying-jeou's Ten Points Proposal for the South China Sea. It will instead attempt to use the South China Sea issue to gain a pulpit in Asian-Pacific multilateral negotiations, a seat in multilateral organizations, and expand its international presence. The South China Sea issue could become an entry point. It could also become a bargaining chip.
Taiwan's multilateral relations may provide the United States, Japan, and Southeast Asia pretexts by which they can intervene. As for cross-Strait relations, Tsai suppressed both extreme amendments during the Party Congress. Tsai intends to do everything possible to suppress cross-Strait controversy and to avoid conflict in the Taiwan Strait. While "maintaining the status quo", she intends to turn cross-Strait relations into multilateral relations between the Mainland, the United States, and Japan. In particular, she intends to promote her New Southern Strategy. It is not hard to understand why the new regime has resorted to equivocation and flexibility to avoid dealing with difficult international issues.
Singapore is the model of a small nation thriving among larger nations by means of multilateralism. But Singapore's history, geographical advantages, economic openness, and sense of timing, distinguish it from Taiwan. Politically Singapore is resigned to being surrounded by larger powers. It is adept at balancing the interests of its neighbors. It relies on its status as a free port, its transnational investments, its separation of state and economy, its efficient government, and total openness to outside capital. Its economic achievements power its diplomacy. Its success would be difficult to replicate within Asia.
To achieve multilateral win-win, the new regime must find its way as soon as possible. Unfortunately two months after assuming power, the DPP clings to its "maintaining the status quo" strategy. Internally and externally, its policy remains equivocal. For two months, it has issued no clear foreign policy guideline. Just the opposite. It is aggressively calling for economic localization. The result has been declining imports and exports, and declining foreign investment. Taiwan is geographically small and densely populated. It is highly dependent on outside capital. But the current regime blocks outside capital. This renders its thoroughly deluded "From the world to Taiwan, from Taiwan to the World" logic even more irrelevant.
As Tsai Ing-wen said during the DPP Party Congress, the ruling DPP has been confronted with a series of crises only two months into its term. Responding to them has not been easy. The crises include the Taoyuan Airport flood, the China Airlines strike, the Hsiung Feng missile lauch fiasco, as well as battering from by typhoon. She said "Some of Taiwan's problems are the result of long-term structural defects. Others are the result of short-tem emergencies. But the only thing people care about is what the DPP government intends to do about them". Among these, the crises caused by long-term structural defects are the most serious. They are the ones that will determine Taiwan's future.
Several issues in particular demand clear thinking. First, is alienating Taiwan from the Mainland really necessary for a multilateral win/win strategy? If Taiwan severs its close connection with the Mainland, it will lose it most important economic partner. It will lose a major bargaining chip during negotiations with foreign nations and the other side of the Strait
Secondly, if Taiwan wishes to join the TPP, if it wishes to promote its New Southern Strategy, does it not need to play ball with the US and Japan? How can it permit the importation of US pork? How can it throw open the door to food imports from the Fukushima nuclear disaster area? How can any of these be good for Taiwan?
The DPP has long been adept at gauging public sentiment and inciting public indignation. The “ruling” on the South China Sea will not permit the DPP to exploit the results of “international arbitration”. It will not permit her to sell out ROC sovereignty over Taiping Island in exchange for US opposition to the Mainland. The DPP must be clear on this. Public opinion has enabled the DPP to defeat its opponents. But public opinion may come back to bite the DPP as well.
Since the election, the ruling DPP has been taking one step at a time. But it is now the ruling party. It must answer to the people of Taiwan. It must offer them a clear direction. As Tsai Ing-wen herself conceded during the DPP's recent Party Congress, if ruling party change fails to solve problems, if it fails to effect structural change, the people will be disappointed not only in the DPP, but in democracy itself. Tsai Ing-wen can no longer afford to remain silent.